Western Province U18 flyhalf Damian Willemse must go straight into the senior ranks, writes MARK KEOHANE.
The Star’s veteran schools rugby correspondent Theo Garrun wrote last year that if SACS flyhalf Jordan Chait was only good enough to make the WP Academy team, then there’s got to be something pretty special about wearing the WP Craven Week No 10 jersey.
Garrun wasn’t wrong. It needed an exceptional talent to relegate Chait, son of former Western Province flyhalf Anton, to the Academy Week team. And Damian Willemse was – and is – that talent.
Willemse excelled for Paul Roos Gymnasium in 2015, inspired them to the Sanix World Rugby Youth Tournament in Japan, was at the forefront of Western Province’s 95-0 demolition of Eastern Province in the unofficial Craven Week final, made the SA Schools squad as a fullback and flyhalf, and was named WP Schools Player of the Year.
This year, he has been even better, for his school and for Western Province in their unbeaten ‘title’ defence. Willemse is special and he was my player of the tournament.
There were so many standout players at the Academy Week and Craven Week, completed on Saturday at the inspiring Kearsney College campus, but what set Willemse apart is that he has every physical and skillful attribute to turn the schoolboy wonder tag into something influential in the professional structures.
Chait this year has played for Western Province U19, and the conservative thinking would be to nurture Willemse in the U19 ranks but his talent would be wasted in junior rugby. He must go straight into the senior ranks and given game time.
Springbok flyhalf, and former WP and Paarl Gymnasium schoolboy sensation, Handré Pollard had the physical attributes to bypass a transitional year in the U19s. He still played for and captained the SA U20s, but he was playing Test rugby as a 20-year-old.
Willemse is a very different type of flyhalf but his potential has Test status written all over it.
His play is the closest I’ve seen to Herschelle Gibbs’s 1992 schoolboy year. He has incredible footwork, acceleration and a feel for the game. He plays aggressively and takes on the defence and his skills are a combination of what you would find if you took a bit from an Aussie No 10 and a Kiwi No 10.
He has a good boot and kicks well for posts, although in this Craven Week, the goal-kicking duties went to the sharpshooter from Paarl Boys’ High, Giani Lombaard, and rightfully so. He is a point-scoring machine and one of the reasons Paarl Boys’ are unbeaten in 34 matches over the last two seasons.
Willemse will be the SA Schools flyhalf again.
He is a more laser show than bright lights and he is the reason you want to watch rugby. South African professional coaches have always invested in the no-risk type player.
Willemse is the exception and so too, hopefully, will be investment in him next year.
South African rugby has gold in this No 10.
Chait, for one, is a great example of the calibre of young No 10s in this country. But this kid Willemse … well … he’s not in the good category.
He’s more exceptional. Long may we enjoy his skills, his footwork and the absolute brilliance with which he has owned schools rugby as the premier No 10 in 2016.